UMBC faculty's art dares to be different


You want to see a lively faculty show? Go to the Visual Arts Faculty Exhibition at the University of Maryland Baltimore County's fine arts gallery (through March 2).

This is a show in which Symmes Gardner's accomplished painting "As Various as the Lights in a Forest" and Harvey Kirstel's watercolor "South Baltimore" come close to looking out of place as almost the only representatives of traditional art media among the installations, video, computer art and mixed media works.

Not all of this work is equally good, some of it is well-nigh unfathomable, and the occasional piece falls on its face. But none of it is blah. And it's a further indication of the vitality of this faculty that most of the works were made for this show. It wasn't a case of, "Well, the faculty show's coming up, let's see what's lying around."

As might be expected from 18 different artists, no overall theme emerges, but a number of the works contain criticism of our "civilization" in one form or another. It may be as simple as the big industrial tanks dwarfing the row houses in Kirstel's watercolor or as complex as David Yager's wall-size multimedia piece "A Visit and a View" from the series Goals and Roles.

One of the more effective works in this vein is Jaromir Stephany'sblack and white wall piece "Our Future Will Be Someone's Past," incorporating newspaper headlines ("War in Gulf"), ads for fortune tellers, and texts that envision a world in which deforestation is a national goal and the government strictly regulates reproduction. For better or worse, we shape the past of those who come after us.

A more specific criticism, of censorship and right-wing flag-wavers, is Robin Ptacek's "Blue Venus: All American Censorship" with its Venus de Milo painted blue (the reference is apparently to "blue" movies), and its notebooks about the history

of flag waving, and about censorship from Michelangelo to Mapplethorpe.

Vin Grabill's "Driving in Mexico: A Video Mural" uses several videos and a soundtrack to re-create the interaction between the mind of the artist and what he experienced there. Hillary Kapan's untitled computer piece interacts with the viewer. One sits in front of a big screen on which there are a series of patterns somewhat like what one sees in a kaleidoscope, only black and white. The viewer can change the patterns by operating a "mouse" control on the table in front of him.

As a counterpoint to the sometimes jarring stimuli of this show, there is also a piece of the past. William-John Tudor's "As a Child, There Was This Place That I Remember" is an enclosed corner made into a cozy late Victorian room, complete with furniture, photo albums, a magazine and a handwritten letter (both dated 1892). If Tudor indeed remembers the room exactly this way, then he must remember it from 1892, making him something over 100. If that's the case and he's still making art, more power to him.

Some may hate this show, but nobody will be bored by it.

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